Movie Thoughts: Miracle of Saint Thérèse

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is a 1959 Franch docudrama film directed by Andre Haquet and starring France Descaut in the title role. It is 92 minutes long (1 hour, 32 minutes). I had some free time during Thanksgiving and decided to watch one of the movies on formed.org, the new Catholic multimedia site. St. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, so I was excited to see if the movie had any more details about her life.

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is pretty old-fashioned, all black and white with low sound quality. I think it is dubbed from the original French into English as well. Several times the words don’t match up with the actor’s mouths. Also, it is pretty obvious when they mute the sound to add the dubbing. In many scenes there are large periods of complete silence, very different from modern movies. I think the film would have been better with English subtitles rather than dubbed English voices. I prefer a more modern film, but I have patience. It didn’t really bother me.

In Miracle of Saint Thérèse, a narrator sets the tone and gives some background before major events like a documentary. Then the drama takes over with characters acting out the parts. There is more narration in the first half, which speeds through the years quickly, than the second half, which really focuses on the last few years of her life.

I enjoyed the detail in the second half. It was really interesting to see how the Carmelites live. There’s probably been some changes since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s very similar today. They have a strict rule to follow. It was especially hard for the fragile St. Thérèse, but no matter how much she suffered, she didn’t give up. In fact, she usually did even more than her sisters in spite of her weakness.

I wish Miracle of Saint Thérèse covered more of her early life. I read her biography on Wikipedia a while back and found the movie covered very little of her childhood. For example, Thérèse was picked on and bullied at school. The movie didn’t show any of her schooling. Also, she had a lot of problems with anxiety after her mother’s death, which the movie depicted as some unexplained illness. The point of the movie, I’m sure, was to help viewers grow in the faith, so it makes sense to focus on the later events of her life. These later years have the most teaching value.

Overall, I had a good time with Miracle of Saint Thérèse. It wasn’t perfect. I would prefer a more recent movie. For foreign films, I always like subtitles more than dubbed voiceover. The movie skipped a lot of St. Thérèse’s early life. These are all very minor though. It was worth the time I spent with it and gave me new appreciation for the saint. It reminded me again why she is one of my favorite saints. Her life helps me stay motivated to get things done even with all the little health problems I have to suffer through.

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Book Thoughts: God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado

God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado is a 2005 book by Christian author Max Lucado. It was published by Hallmark Cards, Inc. My mother let me borrow this book during Lent one year, but I forgot about it. For probably a year, it just collected dust in my bookshelf. This year I decided to treat Advent as a mini-Lent, full of prayer rather than entertainment. That gave me time to finally read this book.

God’s Promises for You has 204 pages split into 10 sections, each with their own theme. Each section has 6-10 promises. The left side of the page has 3-4 Scriptures from the Bible. The right side has a short note by the author. The layout is perfect for a quick daily read in the morning. The notes are all taken from previous books Max Lucado has written, so this book can be seen as a launching point to many of his other books. It includes an Acknowledgements page at the end to help with this.

Max Lucado has some good points in God’s Promises for You. I already know most of it, but there are some things I hadn’t thought about before. The real value in this book for me is the list of Bible passages for each promise. I will be using it as a reference for future study and writing. I grew a little spiritually after reading this book and expect more growth with the future studies it will enable. Any book that helps with my spiritual growth is a good book in my opinion.

I think God’s Promises for You would be a good starter for anyone that has trouble reading the Bible on its own. The Scripture passages are collected under clear themes and each topic has some nice words to explain their significance. It’s a simple book though. Those that are well advanced in their faith may not get a lot out of it. Something else to think about is that this is a Christian book, not Catholic, but the notes are general enough the reader can interpret it in a way that fits their faith whether it is Catholicism or some other Christian faith.

For example, in one part the author wrote about asking for forgiveness from God and then moving on. Since he didn’t go into detail on what asking for forgiveness entails it can fit the Catholic faith. Catholics can interpret that to mean: say a simple act of contrition for venial sin, go to confession for mortal sin. Those of another Christian faith can interpret this note to mean: say a simple prayer asking for Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The text is general enough to fit both interpretations. In this way Max Lucado wrote a book that can apply to a lot of people. The downside is that he is unable to go into any real depth. So it’s a good starter, but hopefully leads the reader to further study.

Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 2

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

13 The very word “to be joined” or “to cleave”, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a closeness both physical and interior, to such an extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: “My soul clings to you” (Ps 63:8).

Just as the family on earth is a sign of the divine family in heaven, the union between husband and wife on earth is a sign of our future perfect union with God in heaven. On earth the greatest expression of this union is the sexual act. However, in heaven the perfect union between God and man (or woman) will be expressed in an even greater way. We can’t comprehend or understand this until we get to heaven. Indeed, marriage ends with our earthly death and in heaven all people will be “mystically married” to God as Ss. Teresa and John of the Cross experienced. God will say, “You are mine”, and we will respond, “I am yours.” Knowing this may help those that struggle with chastity to remain pure.

14 The presence of children is a sign of the continuity of the family throughout salvation history, from generation to generation.

A society without children is dying. Adults eventually age and die. If there are no children to replace them, that society eventually won’t exist. This is measured in our modern age by the fertility (or birth) rate. Several countries already have flat or negative fertility rates and the problem is spreading. In America, the fertility rate has been in decline for years. This problem arose with urbanization.

In the past most families lived on farms and were fairly self sufficient. Children could help with the labor and contribute to the family business. These days work is so specialized children can’t contribute to the parents’ work, so children are a huge cost until they become independent. In the past, the community helped with child raising, but now families have vastly different values. As an example, Catholic parents might not be comfortable with a Muslim family helping babysit.

A possible solution is for families to stick closer together. Instead of everyone moving out when they become adults, the extended family maintains a large house with space for multiple families. Sometimes there are lessons to be learned from the past, and this is one of them. Extended families living together was what everyone did for centuries. It is a proven way to survive. If a group of families share a home, each individual family will get a lot of help raising their children. Unfortunately, this is illegal in many parts of the country, with most cities only allowing two families on a lot. It’s possible in rural areas, but those areas tend to not have many jobs.

17 Parents have a serious responsibility for this work of education, as the Biblical sages often remind us (cf. Prov 3:11-12; 6:20-22; 13:1; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17).

One of the primary responsibilities of Catholic parents is spreading the faith to their children. Unfortunately, many parents forget or neglect this responsibility. Some parents assume Catholic school will do that for them. Catholic school is a good start, but it is only through reinforcement at home that the things they learn are remembered and practiced. For parents that must send their children to public school, it is even more important to teach them the faith at home.

18-1 “The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead.”

While some parents are too controlling, it’s interesting that, for the most part, the problem in the modern world is parents being too lax. Many parents give their underage children absolute freedom to make every decision. I’ve heard of parents letting their children decide to eat junk food for dinner and sometimes even decide which house or car to buy. There is nothing wrong with asking children for input on these decisions, but the parents should always make the final decision even if their children don’t like it. Parents know what is best in the long run while many times children will make choices only for short term benefit. Some exceptions can be made on special days like birthdays, but for the most part, parents should make all the major decisions.

I’ve read studies about how some parents want to be “friends” with their children rather than “parents”. They are not leading their children to success but suffering when the children find themselves lacking basic skills for surviving in the real world. Parents need to be proactive in teaching important values and skills as early as possible so their children are prepared for almost any obstacle they face.

18-2 “Jesus goes so far as to present [children] as teachers, on account of their simple trust and spontaneity towards others.”

One of the things we hear a lot in the Catholic faith is that we must become childlike to enter heaven. Because they haven’t had any bad experiences, children easily trust parents and siblings. On the other hand, every parent has had a few bad experiences with their spouse which leads to distrust. Jesus and our Pope asks you to always trust your spouse, even when there is a possibility of negative consequences. This doesn’t mean to blindly trust others though. There are many people in situations of abuse or other danger where trusting would be harmful. In most couples, the spouses are not in any danger though. They should work towards accepting the sacrifice of trusting their spouse.

19 The idyllic picture presented in Psalm 128 is not at odds with a bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love.

While sin and its harmful effects are particularly devastating in the family, this statement can be applied more generally to all aspects of human life. As Catholics we see the ideal God teaches us in the Bible and the Catechism. Unfortunately, we sin and don’t live up to the ideal. Despite our failure, we are called to keep trying our entire lives to improve and grow. Over time this will lead us closer to God and closer to the ideal he wants for us. Most of us will never reach it in this life but some will become saints. We do our best and leave the rest to God.

21 Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables…

When navigating family struggles it is sometimes easy to think that God doesn’t understand our suffering. The reality is that Jesus, Son of God, lived as a human, both witnessing and experiencing all the sufferings of human life including family struggles. God intimately knows all about what we’re going through. He also knows the way out of difficult situations in the family. When we find ourselves in these situations, we can always turn to God in prayer for guidance.

22 We can see that the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.

Not only do we have God available to us in prayer (see 21 above), we also have the stories and teachings of the Bible to lead us. These are both infinite sources of wisdom our entire life. Those that have read the Bible for many years can attest to the fact that the Bible never gets old. No matter how many times you read it, you always learn something new. Prayer is the same. No matter how much we pray with God, we never somehow learn all there is. God constantly has more to teach us. Accept these blessings into your daily life and you will surely grow in holiness.

23 It is clear from the very first pages of the Bible that work is an essential part of human dignity…

One of the many problems we have these days is a lack of work. With new technology, a lot of work has become automated, putting lots of people out of work. The average IQ score is between 70 and 130, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most high tech jobs require around 90 or higher. That means a huge chunk of the population can never do those jobs. There needs to be work for them that doesn’t require high intelligence.

One possible solution is to look at the examples of self-sufficient living among the religious brothers and sisters. That kind of life involves more simple work perfectly suited to those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to obtain a living wage. St. John Bosco created the Salesian Congregation as a way to support abandoned boys. Many of them ended up working for the congregation. I’ve also read a few stories about homeless people who eventually got jobs working for the charitable organization that originally served them. These are great success stories, but much more needs to be done if all the discouraged workers are to get back into the workforce.

25 Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life.

When people don’t have reliable work, it’s easy to worry about the future. They can’t relax. Their minds are in survival mode, focused on how to how to get through the next hour or day. It’s hard for parents to focus on their children with all these fears clouding their mind. Family life really suffers. Arguments break out easily that can cause lasting damage even after the period of hardship ends. Parents might be so busy working they are not be able to spend time with their children, possibly resulting in their children leaving the faith, lacking good values, or not knowing basic life skills.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 1

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Introduction

1 For all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people…”

It can be easy to get discouraged and lose hope in marriage due to the many negative statistics we have about it. Divorce rates are skyrocketing. Many couples cohabitate instead of getting married. We see news about child abuse and domestic violence pretty much daily. However, despite all these bad things, the majority of people look up to marriage as a good ideal for happiness and joy. The fact that so many young people believe in this gives us hope for the future.

2-1 The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.

Many issues have arisen that threaten marriage, including the high divorce rate, remarriage after divorce, popular support for abortion, prevalent use of contraception, and the emergence of same-sex marriage. The Church has preached against all of these for years, and yet they have continued to grow in popularity. Therefore, the Church must find a whole new way to communicate the harm of these activities while gently leading people back to the truth. It has to be done right the first time. Otherwise people will just be pushed further away. As a result, the proper approach is going to take a long time to discover. The synod was just a start. Years of work are still ahead to fight these evils. It’s likely that these evils will always exist in some form, but much improvement is possible.

2-2 The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

This is a long way of saying we should avoid extremes, good advice for these times. One extreme is to just throw out past Church teaching and replace it with teaching that would be popular in the world. This would address the problem of the popular world ignoring the wisdom of the Church, but the unacceptable cost would be the Church abandoning the truth. This obviously cannot happen. The other extreme is mandating blanket rules for all people, no matter the situation. This also cannot happen since people are not robots or clones. They have different circumstances that affect what they should or should not do. As 2-1 states above, the problem is complex. The two extremes may be quick and easy but neither are acceptable.

3 Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

This quote explains Pope Francis’ approach to making positive change in the world. The Church is not here to write laws for every miniscule detail of life. Instead, it simply gives people the main idea or guideline on how to live holy. Applying that broad guideline to an individual person is a matter of discernment, which might require the aid of a priest or spiritual director but is ultimately the responsibility of the individual believer.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

8 The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9).

Many times people ask, “why are Catholics and the Church so focused on families?” The reason is clear. In the Bible every story has to do with family to some extent. The story of civilization is the story of family. It’s very important to think about family. When families are doing well, civilization is doing well. On the other hand, if families are struggling or failing, civilization will follow.

When addressing a problem, you always start with the source. We have many problems in the world, but many of them start with family troubles such as neglect and abuse. For example, look at minority neighborhoods. They have some of the highest poverty rates. How do we reduce that poverty? By improving families in those neighborhoods. If we can ensure all children have a stable household with two parents plus friends and relatives for support, both parents and children will be more successful, leading to future generations with less poverty.

9 [The father and mother] embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19:4).

Marriage is a divine plan of God. He created humans male and female to fulfill this plan. Everyone is naturally called to marriage. Some people do not get married due to circumstances beyond their control, such as disease or severe injury, but they are still called to marriage which may cause suffering. Other people receive a supernatural call by God to do something special with their lives (religious life). Without that supernatural calling, those people would also be called to marriage.

10 Does [“image of God” (Gen 1:27)] mean that sex is a property of God himself, or that God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no.

Pope Francis corrects those that would take the Bible’s use of “image” literally. When the Bible says male and female were made in the image of God, it does not mean God is actually male and female. In fact, God is something greater. He cannot simply be pinned down to one sex. He contains all that it is to be human plus the infiniteness of his divine person. So all of the male traits like strength are in God plus all of the female traits like gentleness also exist in God plus infinitely more. God is everything in one being.

11 …the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.

Seeing the human family gives us a clue as to its Creator. In the human family, there are parents and children. In the divine family, there is a parent (the Father) and a child (the Son). In addition, the love between parents bears fruit in the form a child just as the love between the Father and Son bears fruit in the form of the Holy Spirit. Marriage and family are evidence for the existence of God and the three divine Persons.

12-1 …we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him” (vv. 18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which he feels amid the animals and the world around him.

Pope Francis explains the incompleteness of man and how he needs woman to complete him. As I wrote for 9 above, marriage is a natural calling. Everyone at a certain point longs for another. They just don’t want to be alone anymore. Some people are made complete by marrying the Church (priesthood) or marrying God (consecrated life). The rest are made complete by marrying another human, the opposite sex. Of course, our Pope is looking at the ideal of marriage here. Many people in real life do not get married due to impairment, illness, or other reasons.

12-2 …for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.

This is a beautiful poetic statement about true love. While we speak in words, God has no need for it. Love is more powerful than words. I’m sure you can remember an experience where someone aided you before you even asked. In love a person can be so attuned to the other that they just know their needs and how to address them before a single word is spoken. Also think about how God speaks to us. It’s very rare that he speaks in audible words. Almost always it’s in the silence of our hearts. This is a hint at what heaven will be like. We will be so close to God and everyone else in heaven, we won’t even need words. This doesn’t mean heaven will be silent, but it will definitely be quieter than earth.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

Avoiding Perfectionism

One of the pitfalls of Catholic living is perfectionism. At the personal level, the Catholic faith is all about striving for perfection in holiness to become closer to God. However, it is easy to get confused here and think we are called to perfectionism. Perfectionism is the misguided belief that we can be perfectly holy on earth. On the contrary, Catholics believe perfect holiness has its end in heaven, not earth. Therefore, we can improve on earth, perhaps to the point of sainthood, but not reach perfection. As holy as they were by the end of their lives, even the saints regularly committed sins (though probably all minor venial sins). Both perfectionism and striving for perfection involve the struggle to be perfect, but perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to disappointment while striving to be perfectly holy is healthy and leads to happiness.

The perfectionist expects perfection, maybe not immediately, but in some short timeframe. Then when they fall short of perfection, they get frustrated, angry, and stressed out. The reality is that all people on earth have committed sin and will continue to commit sin. Catholics strive for perfection in holiness and do make progress, but they know they will continue to make mistakes throughout their life. When failure hits them, they don’t get frustrated, they simply offer it to God and ask what they should do. It’s true that we believe in every moment we are capable of doing the right thing, but at the same time, we know that everyone eventually succumbs to temptation. This doesn’t give us a free pass but instead prevents failure from causing discouragement. We fail, learn from it the best we can, then continue striving for holiness.

Unfortunately, many Catholics believe living the faith means adopting perfectionism. Instead of becoming holier, better people, perfectionism leads to frustration and stress. Satan and his followers then latch on to fill the mind with thoughts of despair. Eventually, this can lead to giving up and abandoning the faith. Perfectionism can also lead to the sin of presumption, that we can somehow become holy enough to get to heaven without God. This tends to happen within people that are so successful they don’t see their own imperfections. Whether perfectionism causes an unhealthy frustration or the pride of presumption, it does not lead to God.

So perfectionism is harmful and can have disastrous effects. Instead, Catholics should simply strive for perfection (or holiness), do their best, and let God take care of the rest. In the long run, they will continue to make mistakes but slowly improve, slowly become holier, and eventually get to be with God.

The truth is that God knows all about our human struggles. His own Son lived as a human, so he knows how hard it is to be perfect. God knows we won’t be perfect on earth, so he’s not expecting it. At the same time, he knows we must be perfect to enter heaven. Anything that is lacking will have to be improved during the suffering of purgatory, so it’s to our own benefit to improve while still living on earth. Our efforts at perfection in holiness will lead to improvement, which will reduce our suffering in purgatory.

Furthermore, our struggles are pleasing to God, not because he wants us to suffer but because our continued determination in the face of failure is the biggest sign of our faith for him. We are choosing to suffer purely out of trust in God. He has told us what our reward will be for this faith, but we don’t have it yet, not for many years. Right now it’s all faith. That is a huge sacrifice for God and he knows it. A person doesn’t make that big of a sacrifice unless they really love the other person. God is greatly pleased to see how much we love him through this sacrifice.

The peace of the Lord be with you,
Jared

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a 2000 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 (N64). When this game came out, I was a big follower of Gamespot, a video game news site. I checked the website daily for news and reviews about all the recent games. When Majora’s Mask came out, they gave it a pretty low score compared to the previous Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. The previous came scored a perfect ten, but Majora’s Mask only got 8.3 out of 10. Back then, Gamespot was my one source. When they said the game was good but not amazing, I decided to skip it. As a kid my allowance was only enough for a few games a year. I only wanted to play the best of the best. I am blessed that these games are still available these days and for very low prices. Because of that, I was able to play it today on the Wii U’s Virtual Console.

Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask did not have the typical Zelda story. In fact, the character of Zelda only appeared in one very short cutscene towards the beginning of the game. This game wasn’t really about Zelda at all. It was technically a sequel to Ocarina of Time, starring the same hero (Link) in a new adventure. Link somehow ended up in another dimension or alternate reality. He was now in the world of Termina instead of Hyrule.

The premise of the story was that Link was searching for his old friend, Navi the fairy, from his first adventure when he ran into Skull Kid. After Skull Kid stole Link’s Ocarina of Time item, he ran after him and fell into a deep hole, eventually ending up in Termina. Link got his Ocarina of Time back but then found new problem. The Skull Kid had got his hands on Majora’s Mask, a source of great evil in Termina. With its power, the Skull Kid was somehow magically pulling the moon down to one day crash into Termina. If Link didn’t help, Termina and all its inhabitants would be destroyed. Link could have just gone back to Hyrule, but being the hero he was, he couldn’t stand by idly or run away. He accepted the mantle of hero once again.

Death was a big theme in Majora’s Mask, so it tended to be much darker than most other Zelda games. Link encountered all manner of ghosts and people dying. In one poignant scene, Link witnessed a person die right in front of him and was tasked with burying him. Also, the entire world was going to die if Link didn’t help. Sadness was another big theme. Most of the people Link encountered were very sad about something. Someone had left them or hurt them in some way. This gave Link’s actions more impact. I could just feel the joy after helping solve a character’s problems. Sadness was also the main motivation behind the villain’s actions.

Ocarina of Time was much more epic than Majora’s Mask, but what this game lacked in epicness it gained in personality. The characters in this game just had a lot more to say. Most of them had quests Link could complete. This was important because there were only 4 dungeons. That meant Link only got 4 additional heart containers (health) from playing the story. The remaining heart containers required Link to collect a very large 52 heart pieces, one of the largest numbers in series history. Most of the characters had big problems, so the heart piece reward was just the icing on the cake. The joy of making someone happy was more than enough reward.

On the technical side of things, Majora’s Mask borrowed quite a bit from Ocarina of Time. With only a year of development, there was no time to create lots of new graphics. Almost all of the characters were just reused graphics from Ocarina of Time. This was okay because it reinforced the alternate reality theme. There were several new textures in this game though, and they were usually better than those in Ocarina of Time. Sometimes it was a little jarring seeing the older, lower quality textures next to the newer, more detailed textures, but most scenes looked pretty good. The sound effects were almost exactly the same as the previous game, but most of the music was new. Most of the music was subdued in the background, but a few tracks were really interesting. Because so much of the look and feel of the game was the same, Majora’s Mask felt like an expansion pack more than a sequel. It was more of the same for those that enjoyed Ocarina of Time. I think that was the intent because Majora’s Mask was a much harder game. Nintendo assumed the player already had practice from the first game, so they could make this one more difficult.

It was always pretty clear what Link had to do next to advance the story, but sometimes the details of how to accomplish that goal could be hard to figure out. Usually, it required a lot of trial error. For example, in the snowy part of the game, a critical character was hidden in a large snowball, but there were several of these in the game. I had destroyed a few of them and found them to just have extra supplies I didn’t need. When I couldn’t find the critical character I didn’t even think to try breaking all the snowballs. The game taught me not to do that by showing all the snowballs earlier to just have extra supplies and not characters to talk to. I don’t like trial and error stuff like this. I never like just wandering around randomly trying stuff until I figure out what to do. Fortunately, this only happened a few times in the game.

Another difficult part of the game were the dungeon puzzles. I found the first dungeon to be a cinch, but the last three definitely took some time to figure out. They really took advantage of the third dimension, so much that the two dimensional maps were just not good enough to really understand how various rooms connected together. Link couldn’t fly around to inspect a large room from all angles, so I had to make decisions based on incomplete information. In other words, later dungeons required more trial and error. In this case, I liked it because the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were usually too easy. Majora’s Mask had the right amount of difficulty. The sidequests were a different story though.

To really complete every sidequest was a daunting task without a guide. There were just so many sidequests in obscure places or activated in obscure ways it would take significant trial and error to find them all, let alone finish them all. I went through the whole story and beat the game without a guide. I then used the full set of equipment to go back through all the areas, searching for secrets and sidequests. I ended up being able to do about 80% of the game this way. For the remaining 20%, I used a guide. Because I don’t play games as much as in the past, I am okay using a guide to finish the last few things. I figure it’s not much different than the guidance I got from friends when I played N64 games as a kid. I never finished a game all on my own. We always played games collectively, finding new things and reporting them to the group.

Because I didn’t play Majora’s Mask until recently, it didn’t have the huge impact that Ocarina of Time did. I think it did several things better than Ocarina of Time, but the dated graphics and old technology prevented me from really loving this game. When I look at it objectively, Majora’s Mask was better than Ocarina of Time in almost every way. The only big exception was the story. Some people just didn’t like the darker themes in Majora’s Mask. I normally don’t like dark games, but the old graphics prevented the game from really absorbing it, so I wasn’t affected by it. For the low price I paid, Majora’s Mask was more than worth it. I will always have more fond memories of Ocarina of Time, but now I have a few to add from Majora’s Mask.

The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a 2017 action-adventure game by Nintendo that I played on the Wii U. I have greatly enjoyed all of the Legend of Zelda games over the years. I really like the gameplay formula they have. These games tend to focus on story with exploration and puzzles to keep things interesting. Breath of the Wild kept much of this but went in a radical new direction.

For the first time, the world of Hyrule was completely open. Link, the hero, could explore wherever the player wanted, ignoring the story indefinitely if they wanted. The story mostly played out in short scripted sequences every so often, leaving more room for the player to create their own stories in what they chose to do. There was still a core story, a main quest, but this time it was pretty short, maybe 20 hours at the most. The main quest was fun and enjoyable, but it wasn’t the meat of the game. The meat was getting to visit all these amazing lands, defeating enemies, and helping solve the problems of the people that lived there.

In the story, the main characters were still Link, Zelda, and Ganon, but the details were quite different. Usually, the evil Ganon would rise in the lands of Hyrule and it was up to Link, with the help of Zelda, to defeat him. However, when Breath of the Wild started, Ganon had already won 100 years prior. It was a post-apocalyptic world. Link had awakened from a long slumber with the task to defeat Ganon and heal the damage done to the world. Zelda was a much stronger person this time. She ultimately did depend on Link, but she was capable of quite a bit more on her own.

The story wasn’t my favorite part of Breath of the Wild, not because it was bad but because it was such a small part of the game. The vast majority of my time was spent wandering around defeating enemies, finding treasure, and completing side quests. That is what I remember the most. There was a little bit of story interspersed here and there to bring the main quest back to the foreground, but then it was in the background for another 5 hours. That made it hard for me to remember much of it.

I never really felt like I got to know the characters. Unlike Skyward Sword, Link didn’t have any dialog choices. Zelda’s personality was hard to follow since the story sequences were so sporadic. Ganon, in this game, was reduced to a mindless evil monster. The story never moved me like the stories in some of the previous Zelda games. This is just a side effect of a huge open world game though. The main story can never be the main feature; the game world serves that purpose. The game world was perfect in Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was by far the largest game Nintendo has ever made. The world was absolutely huge. I played around 72 hours to finish the main quest and only fully explored maybe 4 regions out of around 8 regions total. Even then there were side quests I could come back to in those regions along with minibosses I could fight again for more treasure. It was well worth the money just on playtime alone. Playtime is useless if you’re not having fun, but I had tons of fun with this game. The story wasn’t the best, but gameplay more than made up for it.

I have played other open world games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I enjoyed the minute to minute gameplay in Breath of the Wild much more. Games like Skyrim were more fun to make plans for characters or quests and see them through to their outcome. On the other hand, Breath of the Wild was more fun to just wander around and explore with no plans in mind.

There were good incentives to explore. Some places were just there to appreciate the sights, but most parts of the game were filled with interesting content like treasure chests, new sidequests with useful rewards, or these little Korok creatures that helped Link increase his inventory space. Loading times were very minimal, maybe 30 seconds at the most but typically 10 seconds or less. I was really impressed with the gameplay, in particular the combat. The combat was similar to the previous 3D Zelda games, including Ocarina of Time, but much more polished and fluid in Breath of the Wild. No previous Zelda game gave the player as much control in how to fight monsters.

When facing enemy camps there were at least four options to tackle it. Option 1 was just running in and swinging a sword at everything in sight. Option 2 was using the environment like rolling a boulder or shooting a bomb. Option 3 was stealthily defeating enemies one by one. Option 4 was using Link’s “Magnesis” ability to pick up large metal objects to drop on the enemies. Many times there were other options, but these four options were almost always an option. My strategy was usually sneaking in trying to dispatch a few enemies silently before starting regular combat, but other people always used the environment. Once in combat, there were even more choices to make.

In combat, Link could throw bombs or shoot arrows at enemies or fight in close range. In close range, he could block with a shield and attack when the enemy was temporarily stunned or go the more risky two-hand sword without a shield. Another weapon type was the spear that offered great attacking range at the cost of low damage. There were also special Flurry Attacks that could be performed by dodging or avoiding attacks at the right moment. Some people specialized in dodging. I never got the timing down to do it consistently, but it was really fun when I pulled it off. Weapons could also be thrown for double damage. Some weapons like boomerangs even came back after throwing them. Between weapon type, throwing, blocking, dodging, sneaking, and using the environment, there were many different choices to make during combat. This kept things fresh. I was always learning something new throughout the game.

In addition to combat, this Breath of the Wild was great in the area of collecting interesting items. There were always new weapons, shields, armor, and ingredients to find. Armor was nice because it didn’t break like weapons and shields did. I spent a lot of rupees (in-game money) on the unique armor sets. The game was filled with various ingredients in every area. These could be cooked up to make special dishes. Eating these healed Link and usually also gave him a temporary special effect, such as Cold Resistance for staying warm in the mountains. I had a lot of fun cooking up various ingredients to see what special dish it would make.

One small downside here was that Breath of the Wild didn’t have the option to record the recipe, so I could make more hours later. There was a way to inspect a dish and get the list of ingredients, but once Link had eaten all of that dish, I had to go off of memory if I wanted that same dish again. It would have been much better if the game automatically recorded each recipe. Then hours later when I decided to go back into the mountains, I could look through all the recipes and find one that provided that special effect.

With so many useful items, it could be hard track them down after Link had used them. Well, the game had a really nice tracking system that unlocked just a few hours into the game. Once enabled, Link game could point Link in the direction of almost anything in the game from monsters to specific ingredients to even treasure chests. The only requirement was to take a picture of the object found in the wild. After that, it could be tracked. Many objects were unique — tracking would be useless for them — but it was extremely useful for the vast majority of items. To go along with this, the in-game map gave the player the option to place 100 identifying stamps anywhere they wanted. This empowered the player to create their own custom notes on the map for where minibosses, unopened treasure chests, or rare ingredients were.

The Legend of Zelda games are so good almost everyone has a different favorite game in the series. Breath of the Wild was far better than the earlier games in combat and exploration while being a little weak in story and characters. The other games have had their own positives and negatives, such as Twilight Princess‘s focus on story length at the cost of side quests. Regardless, I have enjoyed them all, including this latest installment. Even though I finished the main quest in Breath of the Wild, I covered less than half of the game. For now I am taking a break from daily playing. At my normal rate of around 3 hours a week, there is enough gameplay for several months. By then, the downloadable content will be out for even more fun. As long as the game continues to be fun, there is no doubt I will enjoy the extra content.

There is No Luck but God

A very common phrase these days is, “Good luck!”. While it’s a nice, feel-good thing to say, this phrase doesn’t really fit with the Catholic faith. We don’t believe in luck, we believe in God. To us, many things will feel like luck because we are not able to see the complex cause and effect going on in the world and universe, but it’s not luck for God. Countless forces are working in the world both in the physical and spiritual realms. These forces affect people in the surrounding area. Those people in turn affect other people. A single action can have very large impact on the world. We just aren’t able to see that or understand it, but God is all knowing.

God knows all the forces at work in the world, both the inanimate forces like wind and the animate forces like people and angels. God also knows the entire past, present, and future of the universe beginning to end. With this vast knowledge, God knows the detailed workings of everything that has happened, is happening now, and will happen later. To illustrate, compare your human understand of the world with an ant’s understanding.

This ant is minding its own business foraging for food when a potato chip falls nearby. It is a feast compared to the small size of the ant. The ant has no idea how this potato chip got there. If the ant had human intelligence, it would call this “good luck”. To us humans though, we can see the cause and effect. A person was eating chips at a picnic on the lawn and happened to drop one where the ant was. We can see there is no luck here. It was just cause and effect. Just as we can see there was no luck in this event of the ant’s life, God can see there is no luck in the events of our human lives.

All the many events in our lives have some combination of causes. Some of those causes are from people, whom God gives free will to. Other causes come from the spiritual realm, such as angels and fallen angels. Rarely, God acts directly on the world through miracles. To God, everything is determinate though. He knows exactly what is going to happen and when. To us, it will seem like luck, but to God everything has a clear cause. Good luck is not really luck, but the blessings of God.

Another potential problem with “good luck” is its origin. This phrase was adopted from a time when people believed in the god of luck, many times associated with gambling or games of chance. People developed these stories to explain the things they didn’t understand about the world. However, we Catholics don’t believe in luck or superstition (CCC 2111). We put our trust in God. We understand we don’t have to know how everything works. God will teach was what we need to know and give us the blessings we need to make it to heaven. Therefore, when you want to wish someone “good luck”, use a phrase that affirms God:

  • “God bless you.”
  • “I’ll pray for you.”

These phrases are a good way to acknowledge that God is in charge. Everything that happens to us during our lives is willed by God directly (through his own actions) or indirectly (by him allowing it to happen), so there is no luck but what God chooses to happen in our lives. What God chooses are blessings. Yes, even the bad things that happen to us are meant by God to be blessings for us, probably for growth in the faith or becoming closer to God.

These phrases are also a great way to spread the faith to nonbelievers. Some people may be hostile to the faith and treat you badly for using these kinds of phrases, but remember the beatitude that it is a blessing to be persecuted in the name of Christ. It’s hard to see that as a blessing, but Jesus promised a great reward in heaven for enduring that suffering. If you must say something without a direct reference to religion, use this phrase:

  • “I hope everything works out.”

As Catholics, we put our hope in God, so this phrase is really saying we hope God will guide them in wherever they are going or whatever they are doing. The nonbeliever will simply understand this as a human hope not divine hope. The listener of this phrase hears what they want to hear. Still, I think it is best to evangelize whenever possible, so always try to use a phrase that reveals your belief in God. It could be a conversation starter that leads to conversion later. With God all things are possible.

Thank you for reading this article. If it has helped you in any way, please consider saying a prayer for me. I suffer greatly as our Lord did, though not in the same way. I am eternally grateful for any grace I receive through your prayers and await our time in heaven when God will reveal how you have helped me. Do not feel obligated to do this, but I really need help. You can make a real difference in my life.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Book Thoughts: Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue was a 1986 Catholic book by Peter Kreeft. It was originally titled For Heaven’s Sake but was republished in 1992 with a new name. Peter Kreeft has a doctor in philosophy, so this book was primarily about making an argument supporting the need for Western civilization to go “back to virtue”. To do this, the book was structured into two parts. The first part (Missing: A Virtuous People) described the overall problem: Western civilization abandoned the idea of virtues, leading to all manner of chaos. Eventually, this would lead to the destruction of humanity by war. To avoid this destruction, people needed to go back to the virtues Christianity had brought forth. The second part of the book (Key: Personal Virtue) detailed the four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, moderation), three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), and the beatitudes that oppose the seven deadly sins. The first part was the most straightforward with the second part being the real meat of the book.

I agreed with pretty much everything Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue.  It was surprisingly accurate given the date this book was written. Other than a few references to the Cold War, this text could have been written today. While the Cold War is over, I really feel like the Western world is going downhill, and that lack of religion is the reason. It’s possible to be a very good person without religion but very rare. Without having good ideals to live by, most people will be as selfish as they can get away with. Selfish people do not do good.

The role models of the modern world are professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians, but these groups are some of the worst in God’s eyes. They are not good people, so Mr. Kreeft challenged the reader to be that good role model in society. Without Christians leading good, holy lives the author predicted the downfall of modern civilization. I agree Christians need to be holy. I strive my whole life to optimize my life around the faith, so I can serve God and others the best I can. I don’t agree that we can turn civilization back to God though.

My feelings in the salvation of modern civilization is product of the time I have grown up in. I have seen people continually move further away from God. Never has there been a turnaround. I know nothing is impossible for God, but because I have never experienced any large change towards God, I just can’t see it ever happening. Our world is stuck in the gravity of the black hole that is hell. I believe the good actions of Christians can slow this process down but never turn things around. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We do the best we can, as I am, and trust God with the rest.

I focus on the low level, identifying needy people and serving them the best I can. Of course, I am willing to give my thoughts on how to be holy — that’s a big part of this blog — but in general, I don’t believe it will lead a revolution. It would be sad if this world was all there is, but as Catholics, we believe in heaven, eternal life. We have something positive to look forward to. We need to do our best to save our soul and the souls of others, but everything else is up to God.

Back to Virtue had a heavy foundation in philosophy and logic. This made it very dense and slow to read for me. It is a book to be studied, not just read one time and set aside. I always enjoy studying the faith though, so I plan to spend a lot of time rereading each chapter. In reading this book, I realized holiness and ideals can be thought about in more than one way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses more on the Ten Commandments, but a Catholic could also focus on the virtues as their guide for holiness. I will be looking into virtues more. If there is anything fruitful in this study, I will put it online for all.